A few weeks ago, the Philadelphia 76ers were sitting comfortably atop the Atlantic division standings, they were the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and they looked like they were ready to finally make a playoff run with good defense and great coaching from Doug Collins. But there was something about the Sixers I couldn’t buy into and I had no reservations about labeling them as pretenders in the playoff race. Now it not only looks like I was right, but at this point I might have been understating how overhyped this Philly team was.
The 76ers have now lost four games straight and seven of their last 10. They lost a crucial matchup with the Boston Celtics by 24, allowing the Celts to basically secure the Atlantic division. They lost to both the Raptors and the Wizards by 21 in the past two weeks. They haven’t eclipsed 100 points since March 27. Lou Williams, the team’s leading scorer, comes off the bench and is only averaging a mere 15.3 points per game. Their leading scorer. Normally that might not be so appalling if the Sixers were incredibly balanced in their offensive production, but unfortunately for Philly, they just don’t have anybody that can put the ball in the hole night in and night out.
You’ve heard before that defense wins championships, but this is only true in two cases: 1) The team plays great defense but also has the capacity to score, or 2) The defense is so stifling it makes up for a complete lack of offensive consistency, slowing the game down and drastically lowering scores. Philadelphia doesn’t fit either one of those descriptions and instead, qualifies for the third type of defensive team that is never remembered: The team plays great defense (leading the league by only allowing 88.5 ppg to be precise) but their offensive struggles prevent them from winning as many games as they should and eventually these problems begin to take their toll on the defense as well. Doug Collins has done a great job building the Sixers up into a playoff team by emphasizing defense, but his team is so inept when it comes to putting points on the board that Philly can barely beat poor teams when they play decent defense.
So while the New York Knicks and even the Milwaukee Bucks are peaking, the 76ers are completely declining and have free-fallen to the eighth spot in the East. The Knicks own the tiebreaker and the Bucks are only one and a half games back thanks to a few small winning streaks. It’s funny how much can change in just a few weeks: the Sixers were sitting pretty atop the Atlantic a few weeks ago. Now they’re fighting for their playoff lives.
Andre Iguodala hasn’t helped things. What happened to the guy who came close to putting up triple doubles every now and then? Hell, what happened to the guy who was capable of scoring 20 points in a game? Iguodala hasn’t reached that mark since January 14. He’s averaging 9.0 ppg in the month of April. When fans are booing your up-and-coming star player at home while he’s shooting free throws, you know something isn’t right.
If only the Sixers’ problems ended there. Spencer Hawes, a huge factor and pleasant surprise in their success early on, has completely fallen off the face of the earth. Thaddeus Young, a once promising prospect off the bench, has seen a steady decline in his numbers. Lou Williams stopped being the dynamic fourth quarter scorer he was at the beginning of the season and hasn’t hit 20 points in almost a month. Elton Brand continues to be hit-or-miss. Jrue Holiday had a decent stretch of scoring in late March but hasn’t done much since and, in general, hasn’t developed into the quality point guard he was expected to be. Even Evan Turner, who was looking like he was finally becoming a quality piece in the Sixers’ offense, fell back into a typical slump. It seems like every player on the Sixers has a solid offensive night, putting up something like 20-25 points before sinking right back into single digits, almost like they’re swapping who’s going to hit that 20-point mark while the rest of the team keeps their point total as low as possible.
Things are not looking good for Philly right now. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if the Sixers completely collapse and lose their playoff spot to the rising Bucks. Doug Collins started the year off on a promising note and is a fantastic basketball mind, but something’s not connecting between this coach and his players in Philly. The scoring woes of the flailing 76ers might be too much to overcome in order for this team to hang on to their playoff spot. And even if they do make the postseason, you can expect an early first-round exit, which would have been the case no matter what seed they get because of how poorly they’ve been playing. This Sixers have a chance to right the ship tomorrow with a game against the lowly Nets while New York has a much tougher matchup against the Bulls, but I still don’t have much faith in their chances. It’s amazing how fast this team has fallen during a year when they were looking to go farther than another first-round playoff disappointment. Unfortunately for the Philadelphia 76ers, they might not even get the chance to go that far.